Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

Return to Glastonbury - 2014

09th July 2014

Henry's Travels

It’s been 20 years since I last wandered the fields of Worthy Farm; I had been a few times before, but our last visit was memorable for many of the wrong reasons – tent slashed, stuff stolen, a drugs shooting, and a bit of a gnarly atmosphere. This was all before security was tightened and the festival – as some commentators have put it – became gentrified.

My memories weren’t all bad of course; part of the atmosphere that meant our tent was slashed was caused by a certain degree of lawlessness, and this gave it an edge – albeit with more of a hippy bent – that was pretty exciting for someone in their early twenties. Here was adventure, nearly on our doorstep.

As my memory has not served me well over the years, I took a look at the 1994 line up – the last year I had been. Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Radiohead, Peter Gabriel, World Party and Oasis were some of the names I only have a vague recollection of seeing – or at least trying to. I do however, clearly remember jigging wildly – and no doubt very badly – to Sharon Shannon in the Acoustic tent, which really was a tent back then. Full of local cider we had bought at the farm gate on the way in, we ambled around taking in the atmosphere, eyes on stalks at some of the sights and scenes before us. I remember laughing a lot, uncontrollably at times.

There was a lot of nudity as I recall, amongst other nefarious activity and stalls the like of which you don’t see at festivals today – The Vale of Avalon was full of mystery and wood fire smoke, there was free love everywhere. These were happier times.  At least, that’s what we all like to think.

Because so often, our recollections are rose-tinted. Harry Sparrow, cyder maker at Aspall from 1921 to 1974, opened his memoirs with the line, “People always talk about the good old days; well trust me, they weren’t good”, at which point he proceeds to regale harrowing tales of how times really were back then for the vast majority of people; not good and old but hard and debilitating

And so it is with Glastonbury; we weren’t naïve to think it would be the “good old days” as our memories would have it. 

As we drove down from Suffolk though, I allowed myself to wonder if my memories of 1994 would adversely affect my experience of 2014. Well, I was truly blown away by Glastonbury.

Certain things were immediately obvious once we’d set up camp; it is a colossal site – awe-inspiring and worthy on that front alone, justifying its status as one of, if not the, world’s greatest festival.

My high points of Glasto ’14 included Block9 – what an epic achievement that is, the 70’s New York transvestite largeness of Club NYC Downlow (complete with discotastic tunes) next to a post-apocalyptic west London tower block (complete with tube train crashed into the fifth floor), with its immersive theatrical run through to a full on Drum and Bass club (so NOT my thing, but I’m not here to judge, the lazer show was spectacular); and if that’s all too claustrophobic, an outside DJ set that had the backdrop of Blade Runner meets the Island of Dr Moreau. Eyes still on stalks 20 years on…

We did make a token effort to see some ‘big names’, but you have to have the sort of dedication to an artist largely lacking in me. I was sad to miss Ed Sheeran as he is a local Suffolk lad, and I like to think that makes him by proxy an Aspall brand advocate although in truth I have no idea if that is the case or not. We shuffled up to see Paolo Nutini, who to my surprise didn’t really rock my world. Fat Boy Slim we also made an effort for due to his (and my wife Lizzie’s) Brighton roots, but it was all a bit bussly (Did I mention a certain lack of dedication musically?).

We got to the main stage. Once. And that was only really to visit the Temperleys at the Cider Bus – a true Glastonbury institution I vaguely remember vaguely remembering the morning after 20 years ago.

Most evenings we washed up on the shores of the Ancient World stage in the tipi field – which became another of my highlights, as of all the things we did at Glastonbury, this reminded me the most of my last visit. It helped that Lizzie knew the very lovely Stuart running the stage, so we had some insider knowledge on bands, plus his beautiful vintage bus to take shelter from the rain and the FOMO (fear of missing out) that can so often make its presence felt at Glasto. Up here, we heard Duncan Disorderly and the Scallywags, a tight acoustic band from Lewes who had the whole tent rocking way beyond last orders; Sophie Barker of Zero 7 also dropped by and delighted with her set; then the crowning glory of The Egg, to whom I came full circle in a Glastonbury dance sense; a nod to my previous Somerset efforts. It was good to be back.

As with so much of life, we can often accept the new without name checking its references to the past – which is a particular crime if they are there to see in plain daylight. The flipside, is that so much of what is new masquerades as a namecheck to the past with no real connection to it. 

Glastonbury has changed, but do you know what, I embrace that, because whilst the delivery may have evolved, the soul is still true to its small beginnings. Long may that continue.